Fall Protection

by Ben N on May 10, 2017

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Probably my single biggest goal of building my own solar system is simply to NOT FALL OFF MY ROOF!

Once I got the first piece of solar racking up, I had a brace which let me get ON the roof. At that point, I realized that the metal roofing is INSANELY slippery and would NOT be walkable. Not only did I need some sort of roof jack, I also needed fall protection.

IMG_4430This past weekend, I took a three-day hands-on workshop-style Wind Turbine Class. I already knew the instructor, which is how I found out about the class. Fall protection and safety is a BIG DEAL in the wind industry, so I made sure to ask about fall protection (and how to best deal with it on my project.) In the end, I got a personal loan of an automatic retractor strap.

This device works much like a safety belt in a car – gently pull it and it moves – jerk it, and it locks in place.

The next thing I would have to figure out is how to attach the strap to the roof. Fall protection anchor points are commonly used for roofing, but are installed BEFORE the roof goes on, screwed right to the structure of the roof. I have a brand-spanking-new metal roof, which I don’t want to put any holes in. I do have two “extra” S-5! brand metal roofing clamps. The problem with using those is that they are really a permanent clamp. Once they are on, they are difficult to remove, and installation leaves a mark on the roof. (The set screw actually BENDS the roofing, which is what makes the clamp so powerful.)

IMG_4489So, one solution would be to install a clamp for fall protection, and leave it there permanently. The downside of that is having an ugly clamp there for all eternity. That actually got my mind going. What if there was some OTHER use for the clamp later? I was trying to figure out a way of using MULTIPLE clamps to span the ridge vent. In a web image search, I realized that what I wanted to do is actually similar to a weather vane mount! Perhaps I could install a few clamps, and then use them for a decorative weather vane later on!

I still didn’t know the best way to attach my fall protection to an S-5! clamp. I would need some sort of heavy welded ring or something similar to which I could hook the safety. I started looking around for what I had for materials and realized I had a piece of angle iron longer than 16″. I could drill two holes through the angle, attach an S-5! clamp to either end, and clamp the whole thing to the roof. This would give me a solid 16″ grab bar I could hook anything I want to.

IMG_4474I got out my drill and bit set and used the 1/8, 1/4, and 3/8″ bits to drill the two holes to size. Starting with the small bits and working my way up, it was SURPRISINGLY easy to drill the holes….. which was good, because I ended up doing it twice.

I fit the clamps to my drilled angle iron and tested the bolts. It all looked good.

Next, I needed to climb up onto the roof. My solar racking (being used as foot-holds) only extends half way up the roof. I pulled up a step-ladder and laid it flat on the roof, with the ladder’s feet braced against the top piece of racking. I crawled up to the peak, where I could stay in place by uncomfortably straddling the ridge. I installed both clamps rather close to the ridge, centered on the south face of the roof. This should keep the fall protection up above the top of my finished row of installed solar panels. When I went to bolt the bar to the clamps, I realized that the roofing is NOT actually spaced to exactly 16″ – it’s a hair less than that. I would have to climb back down, re-drill my holes, and come back up. Because the measurement was less than one hole diameter, I’d have to move over on the angle iron and drill a new pair of holes, instead of just one.

So, one more time, I drilled the holes and climbed back to the roof. This time, I was able to thread the bolts through the iron and torque them down into the clamps. The iron felt very solid on the roof.

IMG_4484Next, I connected the auto-retractor strap and hooked it the the climbing harness, which with some forethought, I was already wearing. I crab-walked down the roof to see how far I could get. Uh-oh. I couldn’t reach the bottom without running out of strap. On the device, part of the model number was “12″. I was afraid that it probably referred to twelve feet of reach with the strap, and I was right. My roof is about 18 feet from the peak to the eaves. I went and got my engine hoist lifting strap, looped that around my angle iron anchor, and then attached the fall protection device to it. This time, I was able to walk all the way down the roof to the ladder.

IMG_4483At that point, I can unhook the harness and then loop the auto-retractor to either the ladder or the lowest solar rack. Then I just need to make sure to walk down the ladder safely.

After once again checking everything over it seemed very solid and secure. The only thing I will likely do is add a piece of foam or some sort of padding under the retractor strap reel. If I move to the far edges of the roof, the reel slides around and can drag on the roof. It’s brand-new, and I’d like to keep it from getting scratched up!

I now feel MUCH more confident about safety on the roof.
No, I didn’t get any more of the racking installed, but I’m now ready to tackle the rest of it (as soon as I get some more time!) and can then begin installing the cabling and micr0-inverters.

Until next time, stay charged up!

-Ben

PS: As I was finishing up, I did a few short controlled slides on my butt, lowering myself down the roof. Suddenly, I remembered the fact that when I was a kid, my Dad built us a homemade slide in the back yard. It was wood, covered with sheet metal used for roofing. I think the angle was even about what my roof is. The metal was dark brown and really soaked up the heat of the summer sun. We would go out to use the slide and get burned if we were wearing shorts. My typical hand-me-down corduroy pants slipped right down the slide, while preventing burns.

PPS: If I’m working on the upper part of the roof, I’ll reconnect the retractor directly to my anchor point. That way, there’s no slack due to the purple strap. Also, I did look up the real-world testing on the S-5 Clamps. For that style, and the type of roofing I’m using, each one will hold over 1,000 pounds, or 2,000 lbs for the two of them. In theory, I could suspend a Geo Metro from my roof.

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